Showing posts with label Muslims. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Muslims. Show all posts

Monday, August 03, 2015

OPINION: Why should Muslims speak about terrorism?

It’s a common refrain. Muslims in Australia rarely have anything useful to say about terrorism. Each time the Federal Government decides it wants to add yet another layer to the already bulging layers of terrorism law, Muslims (with a few notable exceptions) seem almost disinterested or incapable of making a sensible contribution beyond boycotting meetings with the PM or complaining about racism. It’s as if they cannot address the changing law itself.
Then again, few other Australians, including our political leaders, have much sensible to say. Perhaps the only sensible thing our Prime Minister has said on the subject was soon after the Martin Place Siege in which three persons (including the gunman) lost their lives.
Andrew Lynch, Nicola McGarrity and George Williams, in their recently published Inside Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials, state that 
... we should be wary of letting those who wish us harm determine how we live as members of a free and democratic society. Abbott acknowledged the limits upon security in a liberal society when he said, in the aftermath of the Sydney siege, that even if Monis had been on agency watchlists and monitored 24 hours a day ‘it’s quite likely, certainly possible, that this incident could have taken place, because the level of control that would have been necessary to prevent people from going about their daily life, would be very, very high indeed..
This makes far more sense than hysterical references to the “Death Cult” or insulting remarks that Muslims need to say their faith is one of peace as if they really mean it. It also underscores just how important the efforts of ordinary Muslims are when they report suspicious persons and activities to their authorities, and when their testimony is crucial to the small number of successful terrorism convictions.
You can’t eliminate risk by throwing legislation at it. The law cannot solve everything. The above mentioned authors note: 
By the end of 2014, 64 separate pieces of anti-terrorism legislation had become law. 
These additional laws and the current raft of citizenship stripping laws would have been unlikely to stop Man Monis from murdering two innocent Australians.
The growing complexity of anti-terror law is such that the average Islamic society or council or federation committee would have little hope of understanding how it all fits together. We can’t expect religious bodies to have much useful to say on terrorism law reform. At best they can (and should) defer this to experts within their communities – lawyers, public policy experts and lobbyists.
And that assumes they all have the same approach to this issue. National security is tied up with other areas of government policy, including foreign policy. It is na├»ve to imagine that all Muslims in Australia have the same views on, say, the Syrian or Iraqi conflict. Opinions on the Syrian government have been divided within Lebanese Muslim circles since before the Lebanese civil war started in the 1970’s. For many in downtown Punchbowl and Preston, Hezbollah is the enemy when they were once heroes.
Sectarian divisions have turned political. How are these divisions to be managed? How much dialogue is there between Sunni and Shia? Has this translated into a common approach to addressing the issues raised by proposed laws?
Absolute unity isn’t what’s required. We don’t stop celebrating Eid just because we cannot agree on which day to celebrate it on. We shouldn’t have a base approach to civil liberties, democracy, citizenship, national security and foreign fighters just because some of us despise Assad more than others. Even if Muslim bodies don’t feel comfortable talking to the media or the politicians about terrorism, they can still talk to each other and to their members about the issue. And if they then decide to contact their local MP or even a Minister, they can at least honestly say that they have consulted with community members.
First published in the Australasian Muslim Times on 31 July 2015.

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Thursday, July 04, 2013

REFLECTION: Australian Muslim Migrants & Cultural Integration

Some years back (I can't remember how many off the top of my head), I gave a paper at a conference in Adelaide. The conference brought together people who spoke about critical studies in whiteness. Apparently there is such a thing as whiteness studies. I'm still trying to get my head around it.

Anyway, I recently came across the handwritten notes to the "paper" I did. Nothing special. The heading on the notes is as follows: "From Ethno-Religious Communities to Faith-Community - Australian Muslim Migrants and Cultural Integration".

I've typed up the notes as they appeared on the rough notes.

[01] Islam in modern Australia is largely a migrant phenomenon. It consists of various ethnic groups for whom religious faith is often largely incidental and coincidental of ethnic identity.

[02] Multiculturalism as government policy emphasised ethnic and linguistic features. Largely locked out of the Muslim discourse were indigenous people of Muslim heritage, European converts and the 2nd and 3rd generation offspring of migrants. They were also locked out from Muslim religious affairs and from being the public face of Islam.

[03] The Howard government [this paper was delivered just before the 2007 election] has moved toward focusing on citizenship and integration. The goal has been restoring the hegemony of an allegedly "Judeo-Christian" heritage at the expense of belief systems deemed insufficiently European. This includes Islam.

[04] But in the case of Islam, this may have the opposite effect, especially as younger Muslims look to religious scholarship in North America and Europe for guidance. (A related phenomenon is the impact of of Muslimphobia creating a sense of united victimhood.)

[05] How do we define "community"? What are the building blocks of a community? Why aren't Australian Muslims a single community? What features do they lack?

* They have no single structure recognised by all or most as an institutional authority.

* They have no single language of liturgy (other than the nominal use of Arabic in formal prayers).

* They have no central clerical authority.

*They have numerous competing layers of identity.

[06] What is the reality of Australian Islam?

* Mosque management is divided along ethnic and linguistic lines.

* There is a high degree of jurisprudential pluralism with 4 Sunni schools of law, Ithna Ashariyya, numerous Shia offshoots and a variety of salafi/wahhabi branches.

* Limited ability to reach consensus on even basic things e.g. the start and end of lunar months leading to key festivals being held on different days.

[07] Why is it difficult to talk about this subject?

* So little empirical evidence.

* Much research funded by governments, with funds often received by groups with sectarian axes to grind.

[08] The paper was partially an attempt at predicting how institutions will be built. The "war on terror" has created a tension between neo-liberal governments imposing from above, as opposed to spontaneous institution-building in the sense advanced by F Hayek.

And there endeth the lesson!

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

COMMENT: imam Afroz Ali and the 100 extremists

News Limited tabloids report that allegedly qualified imam Afroz Ali has said some 100 extremists live in Western Sydney.

"We have had a program for the last seven years now in which we have had 240 people who were considered to be moving in a direction which may have led them to violent radicalisation - to terrorism ... 
"What we have found is, of the 240 people, 120, exactly half of them, are people who have changed their thinking, their mindset. That is something that I don't necessarily share too widely in public, but I am happy to share it here."

Mr Ali made these remarks to a consultative committee of Imams. He himself is not a member of any board of Imams in Sydney or Melbourne.

A video of his presentation is reproduced below. 

UPDATE I: Many Imams I have spoken to have openly questioned Afroz Ali's qualifications. I myself have serious reservations. To this day, he has not responded to this open letter.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CRIKEY: Why Muslim leaders must change the rhetoric

The Daily Telegraph is having an absolute field day with the Sydney protesters. Yesterday’s front page featured some rather angry faces on the front cover. The words “Muslim unrest” featured at the top of pages four and five. They haven’t had this much fun down at Holt Street since October 2006 when the headline “YOU HEARTLESS IGNORANT MAN” was splashed over the front page along with a photo of a besieged Grand Mufti.

Many Muslims in Sydney haven’t been this embarrassed since Shaykh Hilaly’s infamous cat-meat comments. Readers may recall the then Mufti of Australia made remarks linking women’s dress to s-xual assault. And it wasn’t just tabloid newspapers condemning the man. Politicians, commentators and others weighed in, calling for Hilaly to resign.

Many in Muslim communities also echoed these calls. Many, that is, apart from a fair swag of those currently claiming to speak on behalf of Sydney Muslims in relation to the recent rioting in Sydney over the weekend.

On that occasion, many of these organisational heads felt the urge to publicly support and defend Hilaly. They made excuses for his remarks — that we were missing the context, the true message was lost in translation, etc. The media were collectively blamed. And Muslims who openly spoke out against Hilaly were condemned as traitors to the cause.

It’s the same kind of rhetoric now being used by supporters of the protesters on Facebook and other social media forums against these spokespeople. One can only imagine what is going through their minds as they listen and watch some “leaders” on the radio and TV. ”Oh great, so now you’re condemning us for using the same messages you used six years ago?”

In short, there are some credibility issues that need to be addressed. Or perhaps another way of looking at it is that some people have finally grown up and realised that “they” are not all out to get “us”.

(These observations don’t extend to all Sydney spokespersons, nor to the people at the Melbourne-based Islamic Council of Victoria, which openly called for Hilaly’s resignation. When Waleed Aly joined Randa Abdel Fattah on Lateline the other night and spoke about denial and siege mentality, he used the same themes he used as spokesman of the ICV during the cat-meat saga. On that occasion he also correctly noted that support for Hilaly was limited to a tiny but substantial pocket in a few suburbs of south-western Sydney.)

Yes, the broader community does need to be reassured. Thankfully we now have spokespeople who can speak without interpreters. But the rhetoric of “we condemn this” needs to change.

Why not mock the mockers? When Newsweek recently published a front-page story on “Muslim Rage”, it promoted it on Twitter with the hashtag #MuslimRage. Visit that hashtag today and you will find lots of people poking fun at the idea.

Humour can sometimes take you much further than self-righteous condemnation.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

MEDIA: Thoughts on stupid movie and stupider response ...

[01] Professor Bruce Lawrence from Duke University wrote an incisive piece in Religion Dispatches that included the following:

Beyond all the issues that have been discussed, debated, and fine-tuned since the 9/11/12 tragedy in Benghazi, one central point has been missed, and it needs to be made again and again and again: expect the unexpected, look for the unrelated to be connected, then projected for the interest of dissident groups savvy about the nature of the modern world and, above all, media ‘neutrality.’ There are no topics so hateful or obscene that they’re debarred from the Internet. They travel virally in a world that welcomes them but cannot monitor either their content or their impact. What al-Qaeda did today, other ill-wishers or polemicists or terrorists can, and will likely, do tomorrow. This is the greatest, and sobering, lesson of the death and destruction that came out of the 9/11/12 debacle. Alas, it is a part of our brave new world of endless information and mindless usage of that information. Gertrude Himmelfarb once observed: “Like postmodernism, the Internet does not distinguish between the true and the false, the important and the trivial, the enduring and the ephemeral.”

... and he continues ...

... the still young but perilous 21st century. It is a century, our century, that belongs neither to the USA nor to China, neither to imperialists nor terrorists, but to the CyberKingdom and to those who grasp the endless good and evil wrought by the Information Age.

[02] Sarah Posner has this to say about the movie in Religion Dispatches.

... if whoever made the film actually spent $5 million on it, the expenditure hardly shows in the content, acting, or production values. Amateurish doesn't even begin to describe the 13-minute trailer on YouTube.

She provides further updates on the confused and confusing identity of the film's maker.

 [03] Haroon Mughal asks what all the fuss is about:

While many Muslims (especially Sunnis) find portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad, and other sacred religious figures (Jesus, Mary, Moses, etc.) to be offensive in and of themselves, this doesn’t quite explain the degree of offense Muslims feel when the Prophet Muhammad is mocked. As was the case in “The Innocence of Muslims,” that film that is supposed to offend me but, based on the 14-minute trailer, only embarrasses me… and leads me to ask two desperate questions: How is it that a $5 million budget can buy you so little? And, who produces a 14-minute trailer? That’s just offensive.

He partially answers the question from a religious perspective.

To mock Muhammad, then, is to mock what Muslims aspire to be, throughout their lives. Muhammad is not a divine or infallible figure in Islam, but he is the “mercy to all the worlds,” the best of God’s creation. As such, it deserves stressing that the reaction of a minority of Muslims to offensive portrayals of the Prophet, while inseparable from the present political climate, still does a massive and embarrassing disservice to Muhammad’s image—their actions are far more offensive than the efforts of silly filmmakers with unintentionally hilarious scripts. I recall learning in a conservative Sunday school how, time and again, Muhammad would forgive his enemies, and even inquire after them when they didn’t show up to mock him, abuse him, or even dump their garbage on him.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

MEDIA: Jetlagged analysis of 60 Minutes ...

No, I'm not jetlagged right now. I'm just pain-killer-lagged thanks to having some recent surgery. And so I really couldn't be bothered right now to write something about a recent silly episode of Channel 9's Sexy ... woops ... 60 Minutes show on multiculturalism and other big words tabloid TV hacks find hard to spell, let alone understand.

With that in mind, here is something I wrote for Margo's Webdiary back in January 2006.

Jetlagged analysis on upcoming 60 minutes show

By Irfan Yusuf
Created 31/01/2006 - 16:09

Two weeks ago, while I was sitting in a mini-bus melting in the 300% humidity and then boiling in the heatwave-like conditions of Jakarta, I received a call from a mate in Sydney. The conversation went something like this:

HE: Listen, dude. 60 Minutes wanted to have me on some panel. I’ll be on my honeymoon. I presumed you’d be interested so I gave them your contact details.

ME (somewhat excitedly): You f#cking what?

HE: It’s ok. It’ll go for an hour and will be live. I would’ve done it except the missus would have killed me for cancelling the honeymoon.

ME: What’s this panel about? Industrial relations?

HE: No, some crap to do with Cronulla. You know how they are. They want a few token Muslims who actually speak English.

ME: Mate, you know I’m sick of being the village Muslim!

HE: Dude, I already told the bloke you’d do it. Anyway, they are going to call you, so have your phone on.

ME: Yeah, right. Have a good honeymoon.

The Perfect Face for Radio

Over the next few days, I made sure I sent and received enough text messages to use up the entire charge in my phone. I was not keen to appear on any commercial TV show on the Cronulla issue. Why?

Well, for a start, I am becoming a bit tired of being a commentator on anything remotely to do with that confusing and convoluted group known as the “Muslim Community”. Unless if it’s radio. Heck, if it’s Radio National, bring it on. Even being on the other end of the line with Alan Jones wasn’t terribly devastating.

But TV just isn’t my thing. It might be in 12 months time, once this diet begins to kick in. Until then, in relation to the world of television, my only comment is that I have the perfect face for radio.

(Unless I’m sitting across the table from Maxine McHugh. Lateline – bring it on!)

Not only that, I do have my doubts about 60 Minutes. OK, admittedly the show isn’t as infantile and unethical as Today Tonight, a show that makes Jerry Springer and his guests look like the Op-Ed pages of the New Zealand Herald. But the prospect of being on a one hour panel with a whole bunch of Muslim dimwits who couldn’t argue their way out of a paper bag was not my way of overcoming jetlag.

Nonsensical Spokespeople

I’ve been on some forums with Muslim “leaders” before. I remember a forum on Channel 9’s Today Show which took place some 20 days after the London bombing. I was on there with Sheik Fehmi, one of the few imams who can speak English. There was also a lady from the Muslim Women’s National Network of Australia (MWNNA) who sadly didn’t get much of a chance to speak. The rest of the crowd were an embarrassment.

There was the representative from the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), which is apparently the peak body of Muslims. This chappy was boasting about how his organisation had issued a letter condemning the London attacks.

From memory, the letter was dated 27 July 2005. The bombing happened on 7 July 2005. It took the organisation 20 days to issue a condemnation of terrorism. But when Michelle Leslie took off her scarf and put on a singlet top and hipsters (presumably so that she could fit in with all the Aussie Muslim chicks in Auburn and Broadmeadows), it took AFIC around 20 seconds to condemn her.

Then there’s that poor fellow who works in a convenience store. Wassim Doureihi is wasting away his life working for the big chief of the fringe group Hizbut Tehrir (HT) who owns a host of convenience stores in and around Sydney. This young Aussie Muslim is talented and full of energy. Why he wastes his time grinding the axes and selling over-priced soft drinks for a fringe group baffles me.

Ethnic Islam & Aussie Mossies

Actually, it doesn’t. Why? Because I could so easily have been him. You see, folks, AFIC and all the other middle aged migrant male-dominated Muslim organisations have created a system of mosques in which Islam is little more than a cultural relic of life in Muslim countries half a century ago.

Today in Pakistan and Bangladesh guys and girls may be hitting the nightclubs, but women are still not allowed in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi mosques of Sydney. The Lebanese Moslems Association may have had some kind of generational change, it Islam is still a strictly Lebanese phenomenon at the Imam Ali Mosque in Lakemba. The congregation there may be multi-racial, but most of them are barred from joining the LMA due to constitutional apartheid that only allows persons eligible for a Lebanese passport to be on the committee.

Most Imams cannot speak English. They are imported from overseas and poorly paid. Their job description is simple – do whatever it takes to make sure Islam remains a cultural relic for first generation migrants, thereby guaranteeing its almost complete irrelevance to young Australian-born Muslims who make up the majority of Australia’s Muslim community.

So what has this to do with Aussie Muslim kids following wacky fringe groups? The mainstream Imams may not speak English. Their employers may be lost on a cultural time warp. But mainstream Islamic theology which these imams can teach when they extricate themselves from their employers’ cultural time warp is not something anyone should be worried about. In fact, it is the best antidote to religious extremism.

But the migrant self-appointed elders and leaders are keeping this mainstream Islam from young Muslims who are brought up in Australia and cannot recognise fringe groups for what they are. Further, so many of the English-language materials we grew up with and which were given to us by lazy and stingy leaders were hand-outs from some radical Saudi and Pakistani publishers committed to an isolationist theology.

Getting Over Radicalism

Hence, so many of us forced to learn Islam from books have been exposed to writers on the more radical end of the Muslim literary spectrum. This in itself is no big deal. I’m sure more senior readers here will recall dabbling in those little red books of Chairman Mao.

And I do recall some months back spending an hour or so with a theatre full of well-heeled ex-lefties as they cheered on that mad Argentinian dentist as he swam across the Amazon after riding a motor cycle across South America before hanging out with Ayatollah Castro for a while.

Was I in Newtown or Glebe at the time? Nope. Roseville. In the heart of Sydney’s North Shore.

I may have read my fair share of Dr Ali Shariati and other ideologues of the Iranian Revolution. I might have attended a few lectures given by Afghan mujahideen leaders. Though admittedly that was the time when they were directed by the Grand Ayatollahs Ronald Reagan and George Bush Snr.

I’ve read my quota of radical stuff. But it didn’t take me long to get over it.

(Actually, in Shariati’s case, I haven’t quite gotten over it. If anything, the current lot of conservative Iranian mullahs are well and truly over this super-funky Sorbonne-educated Iranian sociologist. His work is deemed too liberal and is banned in Iran.)

But not all young people get over their flirtation with radicalism. For many Aussie Mossies, their first impressions of Islamic faith are lasting. Mainstream imams and mosques often cannot provide them with spiritual and ideological antidote.

I strongly doubt people like young Wassim will do anything risking national security. Their rhetoric is radical, but their actions are harmless. Although it only takes just a handful of serious wackos to … I don’t even want to think about it.

Individual Responsibility

Yes, I realise that each individual has to take responsibility for their own actions. We can’t go on always saying society is to blame. Unless, of course, if we are on the funnier end of the human spectrum and do talk shows for ABC TV.

In a sense, all Muslim individuals are responsible for the near-complete cultural irrelevance of their imams. In the same sense that all Catholics and Anglicans are to blame if a small group in their churches try to cover up for paedophile priests.

If Muslim dimwits keep speaking for Aussie Muslims, it’s because educated articulate Muslims able to understand the Aussie mainstream don’t speak out. And their silence is allowing the dimwits to confuse the hell out of mainstream Australia.

Getting Back to 60 Minutes

You might recall my leaving the mobile phone uncharged for a few days in Indonesia so that I could avoid receiving a call. The following week, I felt a bit guilty and sent an e-mail to the producers. I vaguely recall someone ringing me the next morning, but it was at around 4am.

The 60 Minutes dude finally managed to track me down when I had just touched down in Sydney. He sent me the blurb via e-mail. Here it is...

Cronulla Forum

On February 8, the 60 Minutes program is holding a forum to discuss the Cronulla riots. The forum, chaired by 60 Minutes, will be filmed and televised nationally in late February.

While calm has been restored to Sydney’s beachfront, the underlying problems that caused this unprecedented eruption of violence remain.

This was not just a suburban territorial dispute, nor simply a law and order issue – it struck at the very heart of multiculturalism in Australia, highlighting serious social problems caused by mistrust, alienation, frustration and anger.

Why did it happen and how can this potentially explosive situation be resolved?

60 Minutes is keen to involve young Muslims and non-Muslims to hear their views on what is undoubtedly the most important social issue in Australia today.

Er, I never knew Muslims were an issue in Cronulla. I understand persons of Middle Eastern appearance may be problematic to some Cronulla locals. Perhaps we might even narrow that down further to persons of Lebanese extraction and of Middle Eastern appearance.

The forum will be held in the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Apparently Ray Martin will be hosting it. It will go for around an hour, and will then be edited down to 20 minutes.

So we might have 200 people in the hall from all different sides of the argument – Cronulla locals, white supremacists, non-English speaking imams, Leb kids with bad attitudes and even worse haircuts, non-Leb surfie kids with bad attitudes and smelling of too much beer and cheap Byron Bay gunja, etc. We each have to try and contribute something within a space of 60 minutes. This gives us all a space of 18 seconds to say something. Then the show will be edited down, enabling each person to get 6 seconds on the channel. That’s 6 seconds to express one’s self on multiculturalism and alienation and Lebbos and all that stuff.

And what will be the focus of the edited version?

From the wording of the blurb, it seems the 60 Minutes crew regard the entire Cronulla thing to become a debate about Aussie Mossies. And with 6 seconds each, even the most articulate Aussie Mossie (or indeed Aussie anything) will have little chance to say anything useful.

And what is the point of running things this way? In what way will viewers be more enlightened about the issues underlying the riots?

Once I get over my jetlag, I will address more on this issue. Until then, I’m off for another nap. Selamat Lemmegetsomesleep.

Words © 2011 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

VIDEO: The mother of Salman

The late Salman Hamdani was an American hero. He was a 'first responder' on September 11 2001, placing himself in harm's way to save other human beings. For 6 months, he was regarded as a suspect. Then when his remains were found at Ground Zero, Salman Hamdani was finally exonerated.

For those 6 months, his parents lived a double jeopardy of distress - their son was missing and they had neighbours looking at them suspiciously as rumours spread that their son may have been a terrorist.

Now with a terror-loving congressman holding hearings into Muslim radicalism, Salman Hamdani's story was being cited by Congressman Keith Ellison in his emotional testimony. And the American Right are having a field day of bigotry, alleging Ellison made the whole thing up. Matthew Shaffer, a Fellow at the National Review Institute, does some googling and alleges that there really weren't any serious rumours about Hamdani at all.

Shaffer should tell this to Talat Hamdani, Salman's mum. Here's what she has to say:

Despite his noble instincts, the tabloid media initially suggested that because of his Pakistani-American heritage, he might have been involved with the attacks.

My grief was compounded by the suspicions that clouded Salman's name and the suggestion that his faith -- my faith -- not the acts of 19 murderers, was somehow responsible.

Her entire piece, written in response to the IRA-supporting Peter King witch hunt, should be read in full.

All of which just goes to show how irrational is racial and religious profiling.

Words © 2011 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

VIDEO: Confronting stereotypes ... er ... sorta

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COMMENT: A note from 2005 about a national Muslim youth summit ...

This was first published on the Aussie Mossie blog on 29 November 2005. It concerned a youthh summit organised by the former conservative government of John Howard as part of its response to the fear of home-grown terrorism following the July 2005 London bombings.

Flippant Thoughts on this Friday's Youth Summit

This Friday, young Muslims from across Australia will be gathering in Sydney for the inaugural National Muslim Youth Summit. They will discuss a range of issues affecting young Aussie Muslims. These issues include drug & alcohol addiction, family crises, the Anti-Terrorism Bill and Muslim coverage in the media.

You’d think such a summit would be organised by a peak Muslim body such as the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. Think again. This talkfest is being financed by the Department of Immigration Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). It is being organised by a non-Muslim NGO called the Australian Multicultural Foundation.

Around two-thirds of Australian Muslims are aged under 40 and were born in Australia. Many Muslim communities – Turks, Bosnians, Albanians, Afghans and Lebanese – are into their 3rd and 4th generation. They have high levels of education and employment and integrate well in mainstream Australian society.

Yet the very fact that AFIC and other Muslim bodies have never organised a Muslim youth summit is indicative of how out-of-touch these migrant-dominated peak bodies are. It also explains why they find it so hard to send the right signals to the broader community understandably seeking some kind of reassurance that the London bombings will not be replicated in Australia.

When asked if any single event changed his perceptions toward national security, Prime Minister John Howard spoke of the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005. What made the London attacks so different was that the alleged perpetrators were not foreign terrorists but local boys. The phrase “home grown terror” became part of our vocabulary.

And it wasn’t just in Australia that the shockwaves were felt. Across the Tasman, at least 4 mosques were vandalised in different parts of New Zealand.

Within hours, a small group of grassroots Muslim organisations led by the Islamic Council of Victoria condemned the attacks unconditionally. These organisations had one thing in common – they were managed by Australian-born Muslims who knew how to engage with the Australian mainstream and could address the legitimate concerns Australians of all faiths and no faith in particular held on national security issues.

However, other Muslim peak bodies were much slower in their condemnation. It took the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils around 3 weeks to issue an open letter signed by its president and its mufti (chief imam) to various Muslim groups and associations. The letter made mention not just of the terror attacks but also of the alleged grievances of those carrying out many attacks. A similar letter and with similar timing was issued by the Islamic Council of NSW.

The conditional nature of the condemnations and their delayed release led to suggestions that Australian Muslims would only condemn terrorism when embarrassed into doing so, and only on a conditional basis. The suggestions were, of course, unfair but understandable. What Muslim bodies did not realise was that their management of Muslim affairs was now regarded as a national security issue.

The most recent raids and arrests conducted by ASIO and police raised even more questions about Muslim community management. The majority of those arrested were young men born and brought up in Australia. A number of these men were known to attend youth groups managed by imams and volunteers deemed to be more “radical”.

This naturally led many commentators to ask certain questions. What attracts many local Muslim youth to attend such classes and become part of such groups? Why aren’t mainstream mosques attracting more young people? What facilities and programs are being run by mainstream imams? Are mainstream imams equipped to provide programs to younger home-grown Muslims?

One troubling aspect of Muslim community leadership is that it has not yet figured out exactly who or what it represents. Both AFIC and its New Zealand equivalent (the Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ or FIANZ) are umbrella bodies representing mainly societies responsible for the management of mosques.

At least in Australia, the majority of mosques are divided along ethnic and linguistic lines, and leadership is dominated firmly by first generation middle-aged migrant men with an interest in maintaining the ethnic divisions. The leadership tends to regard mosques and religious activities as cultural artefacts which run parallel to their cultural perception of Islam.

The mosque associations tend to employ imams who fulfil a cultural role. As such, the imams of different mosques will perform different cultural roles depending on the dominant cultural group of the association. Most Friday sermons and other lectures are given in Arabic and another language (usually not English).

Indeed, most sermons being given this Friday will also tend to be in a language most young Muslims will not understand. The inability of mainstream Muslim institutions will be just one of the topics to be addressed this Friday at the National Muslim Youth Summit in Sydney.

Delegates will be divided into 6 subgroups and will brainstorm a number of the issues selected. The summit is perhaps the first time young people across the ethnic and linguistic spectrum of Muslim Australia will be able to discuss and pass on their concerns to the Australian Government.

One would have expected the topics discussed at the summit would form part and parcel of the deliberations and decision making of these bodies. The inability of peak Muslim bodies to involve and engage the youthful Muslim majority will ensure these institutions will become irrelevant in the Australian Muslim landscape. The fact that a government agency and a non-Muslim NGO are taking this initiative is yet another indication of how hopelessly out-of-touch the migrant and middle aged male dominated Muslim leadership is with the community it claims to represent.

Words © 2005-11 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: A useful note with a pompous headline ...

... and with a few bits worth reading. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I wrote the headline. It was first published on the Aussie Mossie blog on 23 November 2005.

A Message To Imams Across Australia, New Zealand & The World

25 November 2005 falls on a Friday, the day regarded as sacred to Muslims. On this day, Muslims gather at the mosque to pray in congregation. Part of that process includes the delivery of a sermon or “khutbah”.

The Prophet Muhammad has provided guidelines for the delivery of sermons. One od these guidelines is that the khatib (the one who delivers the sermon) is to deal with current issues facing the Muslim community.

Although I am no scholar, I have a humble suggestion for our imams and khatibs for a topic which affects all Muslims, especially Muslim men. I also have a humble request for our imams and khatibs to wear a certain item with their clothing.

The United Nations has designated 25 November to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. As part of this day, men wear white ribbons on their chests as a symbol that they will not commit, condone or tolerate any forms of violence against women carried out by other men.

I urge our imams and khatibs to wear a white ribbon on that day, and to encourage the male members of their congregation to also wear the white ribbon.

Islam gave dignity to women. It gave women rights and liberties. But some men, Muslim and non-Muslim, choose to take those rights away. Moreover, some men choose to act violently toward women.

Our greatest exemplar in conduct was the Prophet Muhammad. There is no instance of him ever behaving violently toward a woman. He never engaged in physical or sexual violence toward any women, be they his wives, his daughters or women outside his family.

The Prophet Muhammad brought a scripture which states that husbands and wives are like “garments unto each other”. Which man would rip up or punch or kick his garments?

The Prophet is reported to have said: “The best of you is he who is best to his wife. And I am the best amongst you because of my behaviour with my wife.”

The measure of a man is how he treats his wife. Yet we all know that Muslim men do exist who beat and act violently toward their wives. Often such violence is carried out in the presence of children, or at least comes to the knowledge of the children.

When violence against women is perpetrated in the home, it isn’t just the women victims who suffer. The children are traumatised, and this can last even after they reach maturity. Other men who care for the woman victim – fathers, brothers etc – also suffer.

Indeed, even the perpetrator of the violence suffers. He loses respect of his children. He is increasingly unable to control the anger or other causes of the violence. Most importantly, he eventually loses the woman who could have offered him unconditional love.

Society as a whole loses. And we are losing. Our women are suffering physical and sexual violence at the hands of their husbands and other men. We know it is happening. But many of us come from cultures where domestic violence is hidden.

In Australia and other Western countries, there are laws which forbid domestic violence and which provide women with remedies against the perpetrators. Similar laws exist in Muslim countries.

Yet it troubles me that when I visit a court located in an area of Sydney with a substantial Muslim community, I see names like “Ali” and “Muhammad” and “Umar” and “Abdullah” figuring prominently on the court list as perpetrators of violence toward their female partners.

It also troubles me that I see so many women with names like “Aisha” and “Khadija” and “Yasmin” and “Fatima” as victims.

Women make up at least 50% of the Muslim population, and at least 50% of the human race. Violence against women is condemned across all faiths and schools of thought. So why is it on the increase?

This is not just an issue for Muslims. It is eating at the soul of mankind. We know that God is “ar-Rahman” (absolutely gracious) and “ar-Rahim” (absolutely merciful). We know that these two primary attributes of God come from the root word “Rahm” which means “the womb”.

God uses the example of the female womb to describe His own absolutely mercy. Yet instead of respecting the wombs that carried us, we see women being subject to the worst forms of physical, mental, sexual and emotional violence in our communities. We even see fathers and brothers perpetrating violence for the sake of protecting family honour.

Yet the most honourable and best of men is the one who is best to his wife. This is the standard set for us by our Prophet. It is the standard we have failed.
The Prophet said: “Help your brother, both when he is oppressed and when he oppresses.” Those hearing asked: “How do we help someone when he oppresses?” The Prophet responded: “By stopping him from his oppression.”

Muslim men need to stop their Muslim brothers who deem it acceptable to oppress their wives and other women. The violence against women will only stop when men take a stand. If Muslim men sit by and not stop the evil from occurring, we might as well be lending a hand to the violence.

I humbly call upon all imams and khatibs to deliver this message to the men in their congregations on 25 November 2005.
Words © 2005-11 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: The integration mass debate

Here we go again. The integration mass debate has been started by politicians too gutless and/or stupid to deal with harder questions of economics. Pointing fingers at others without realising three fingers are pointing back at them.

Once again the pseudo-intellectual monoculturalists are coming out of the closet, dusting off the attitudes that have been used for over two centuries in Australia. One of my recent favourites has been a line from an editorial published by that American-owned newspaper the calls itself The Australian.

How wonderful it would be if the next generation of [Muslim] Lebanese-Australian kids held as their models the successful chief executives and footballers from their communities, rather than drug barons and night club owners.

What can I say? Or rather, where do I start? My responses aren't exactly the most intellectual-sounding, but then neither is what I'm responding to. So here goes:

[01] Is Professor Marie Bashir Dutch? Is Steve Bracks German?

[02] What proportion of drug barons in Australia are Lebanese?

[03] What proportion of night club owners in Australia are Lebanese?

[04] Let's look at CEO's. What proportion of Australian Catholics look upto Rupert Murdoch as their model? And for what? How many Catholics living in the ACT would manage companies that avoid taxation? Or that engages in illegal phone tapping? Is success in Australian patriotism measured by how readily one gives up one's Australian passport to become an American?

[05] What kind of footballer is successful? One who successfully dodges allegations of gang rape or group sex or bestiality? How many females does one have to sexually assult before becoming a successful footballer?

[06] Did Hazem ElMasri recently retire from a successful career in chess or lawn bowls?

Okay, that's enough. Now let's enjoy Amr Zaid's bass guitar.

Words © 2011 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

COMMENT: Why some young people get pushed toward extremists

My views have changed a fair bit on this subject. What follows is what I thought on Thursday 10 November 2005 whrn this piece was first published.

Dr Ameer Ali, President of the migrant-dominated Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, is worried about the spectre of rednecks hating Muslims.

He should be more worried about young Muslims who may be tempted to blow themselves up and take a whole heap of innocent people with them.

Rednecks are a problem. They do bin Ladin’s work by making ordinary law-abiding mainstream Aussie Mossies feel isolated and marginalised. Bin Ladin wants Muslims to feel isolated in the hope they will join his mad pseudo-jihad.

But why should young well-adjusted educated Australian-born youth be attracted to the message of hate? Is it a few government foreign policy blunders or paranoid tabloid columnists that push young people toward extremism?

The fact is that the leaders complaining about the backlash are themselves largely responsible for the radicalisation of some young Muslims. These leaders have a lot to answer for.

On 2 March 2000, the Supreme Court of NSW delivered its judgment in a marathon case between two peak Muslim bodies. The Islamic Council of NSW took on Dr Ameer Ali’s body, spending thousands of dollars arguing over a range of matters.

Who knows how many thousands of dollars were spent in legal fees. Both sides hired big-city law firms, and both had senior barristers appearing for them at the hearing.

These two bodies consist of member societies which are dominated by first generation migrants. Virtually all mosques have imams trained overseas with poor command of English. Most imams have very little understanding of the problems faced by young people growing up suspended between parental cultural pressures and mainstream Australian life. These imams practise a cultural form of Islam with little relevance to Australian conditions.

The imams are employed often on short-term contracts and are poorly paid. They must support the existing executive committees managing the mosque. The imams deliver their sermons in Arabic and the language most commonly spoken by the ethnic committee members managing the mosque.

Many mosques bar or discourage women from attending. Young people are often discouraged from participating in the executive committee.

These societies join together to form State councils which come together to form the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). But in recent times, AFIC has spent much of its time and resources trying to remove councils it doesn’t like.

In New State Wales, AFIC had formed 2 Islamic councils in a space of 5 years. It created the Supreme Islamic Council (often jokingly referred to as “the Supreme Pizza Council”) to replace the original Islamic Council. It then kicked out the Supreme Pizza Council and replaced it with the Muslim Council of NSW (often jokingly referred to as the “Super-Supreme Council”).

A bit like John Howard having a fight with Morris Iemma and then kicking out New South Wales from the Commonwealth to be replaced by New Zealand.

While all these silly political games are being played, young Muslims are searching for answers and meaning to their lives. Most mainstream imams cannot help them, and many are forced to learn themselves by reading books. And so many books freely distributed in Australia by peak bodies and others teach an isolationist theology that encourages Muslim youth to emphasise their differences from their fellow Australians.

And because the imams cannot speak English and the mosques are dominated by migrants disinterested in the problems of young people, many youth are attracted to those whom Sydney Radio personality Mike Carlton describes as the “thick-Sheiks”.

Whatever we think of these thick-Sheiks, one thing most have is the ability to speak English. Also, the thick-Sheiks have established centres where activities and support services for young people and Muslim converts are provided.

The thick-Sheiks make use of modern technology and means of communication to get their message across. Because they actually listen to young people, the thick-Sheiks are able to provide services young people want – sporting and fitness activities, multimedia products, internet access and other facilities you would find in any local youth centre.

But most important, the thick-Sheiks are able to communicate their fringe ideas in a language young people can understand. And because the thick-Sheiks have a simplistic and volatile theology, their charisma often wins over young people with little exposure to mainstream Islamic ideas.

You rarely see thick-Sheiks preaching in mainstream mosques. They know that Muslim migrants brought up on mainstream Islam can recognise a fringe sect when they see one. In fact, many thick-Sheiks have been banned from local mosques.

The migrant parents may recognise the thick-Sheiks as representing a fringe cult. But what would young people know? They can’t understand the sermon down at the local mosque. And the elders at the mosque arrange things in a manner local kids simply cannot relate to.

So you have young people reading isolationist literature distributed free by peak bodies. They are often made to feel unwelcome at the mosque, and the imam can’t help them with the normal problems most young Aussie face. Yet a few suburbs away is a centre where the imam speaks English and where you can play some sport and meet other young people in the same predicament.

And so you have very Australian kids being pushed by migrant Muslim leaders into the waiting arms of fringe extremists. Yet some peak bodies continue to complain about being marginalised by rednecks. But so many peak body leaders have been part of community structures that isolate and alienate Aussie Muslims, both the young and converts.

Methinks the only rednecks out there (apart from some Liberal backbenchers) are those migrant leaders who divide their faith-community along ethnic lines and push young Aussie Muslims toward fringe groups.

Words © 2005-10 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: Scattered facts on Muslim Australia

From the Aussie Mossie blog published 23 May 2006 ...

When talking about Aussie Muslims, it’s important that commentators have accurate information based on proper research. Sadly, Muslim institutions claiming to represent Muslim communities haven’t seen the task if researching Muslims as being a priority.

Hence, the task has been left to governments and individual researchers. One such research effort was carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Melbourne and led by Professor Abdullah Saeed.

The results of this research were published in a 2004 study entitled Muslim Australians: Their Beliefs, Practices & Institutions. The study was based largely on the 2001 Census.

It would, in my opinion, be the height of ignorance for anyone to write or comment on Muslim issues without having read this study. So many myths are shattered just on pages 5 and 6.

For instance, many people presume that Lakemba has the highest concentration of Muslims of any suburb in Australia. In fact, the highest concentration is found in Dallas, Melbourne (39%). In terms of Sydney, Auburn has a higher Muslim concentration than Lakemba or Bankstown.

Often Muslim loyalties to Australia are questioned. Yet an overwhelming majority of Muslim migrants (221,856 out of a total of 281,578, some 79%) have obtained Australian citizenship.

The terms “Muslim” and “Lebanese” are often used interchangeably. It is assumed that most Lebanese are Muslims and vice versa. Yet the most frequently cited country of birth for Australian Muslims is Australia (some 103,000). This is over three times the number of people born in Lebanon (29,321).

It is also assumed that most Muslims speak only Arabic. Yet the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proficient in English, both written and spoken.

Muslims are often accused of being hostile to mainstream Judeo-Christian Australian values. Yet Muslim rates of marriage are far higher than the national average. 51% of Aussie Muslim males are married by the age of 34. Some 41% of Muslim females are married by the age of 24. De facto relationships are uncommon.

The historical presence of Muslims in Australia is also not well-known. On page 7 of the Saeed study, mention is made of Saib Sultan, a settler who arrived in Australia in the early 19th century. After arriving at Norfolk Island, he later settled in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) in 1809 where he worked on 30 acres of land with his wife and family.

Muslims arrived in Australia as both convicts and settlers. Later, during the 1870’s Malay Muslim divers were recruited to work on Western Australian and Northern Territory pearling grounds. By 1875, some 1,800 Malay divers were working in Western Australia.

Australian troops are part of a Coalition force seeking to restore order in Afghanistan. Yet little of the Afghan contribution to Australia is taught in schools. Those complaining about the over-emphasis on Aboriginal culture and history are themselves almost always guilty of neglecting non-European contributions to Australia.

The Afghan (and in many cases, Baluchi and Pathan from what is now Pakistan) cameleers were recruited to assist in early European exploration of the inland Australia. During the late 19th century, they controlled the camel transport industry and played a vital role in the economic development of early Australia.

Afghans were largely responsible for the transport of goods through inland Australia, for laying telegraph and railway lines and for establishing many outback settlements. Cameleers transported goods and supplies to gold miners and to outback settlements.

The contributions of Muslim Australians to our economy and well-being are also not mentioned enough. Often this is caused by a reluctance of Muslims in senior positions to identify themselves by their faith. There is a perception that being open about one’s Islamic faith can be a career and social liability. Negative remarks made by a tiny minority of political and church leaders don’t help in this regard.

Words © 2006-10 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

COMMENT: Yasir Morsi on assimilation ...

On Sunday morning, 24 October 2010 I found myself at Melbourne University for a talk by Yasir Morsi, current President of the Melbourne University Muslim Students Association (a position formerly held by luminaries such as Waleed Aly) and one of the brains behind the Granada Project.

In the past, Yasir has taken great exception to my book and to what he perceives to be my "sucking up to whitey". His criticisms of me during public exchanges on Facebook have been so polite, have involved so little name-calling or personal attacks and have always been so focussed on the issues that they are best left for the far-right margin of Planet Irf.

So it was with some interest that I attended Yasir's lecture on Sunday. I took some copious notes and also recorded it on my rather primitive Nokia.

Believe it or not, Yasir did have some very useful things to say. What really impressed me about his presentation was his definition of assimilation, which in the context of 21st century Aussie Muslims he described as ...

... not a move toward something but rather a move away from something. Muslims are expected to move away from their tradition.

He used a very powerful image of seeing the reflection of his face with all its Arab features on the TV set while he was watching the towers collapse in New York on 11 September 2001. He remarked that since that date, it is as if ...

The towers are always collapsing.

Muslims are only being seen as those responsible for the collapsing of the towers.

I'll blog some more about this interesting talk later.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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RACISM: Words of wisdom from Eugenia Flynn ...

On Tuesday 19 October 2010, Adelaide-based Eugenia Flynn spoke at a gathering at Melbourne University on the topic of Race & Identity in the Muslim Community. Her words and her delivery stunned her listeners as well as her fellow panellists (North American comics Preacher Moss and Azhar Usman).

I tried taking copious notes at the event, which I have typed out and reproduced below. If anyone who attended has any corrections or can add anything, please do.

[01] My conversion to Islam did not represent a rejection of my Aboriginal or Catholic heritage. I don't reject Catholicism as some kind of religion of oppressors. My path to Islam was more of a flowering of my innate spirituality.

[02] Some Muslims see Islam as a badge of honour. Because Islam is getting a rough time, they see being Muslim as giving them street cred.

[03] Some migrant Muslims claim that they have a more exclusive and legitimate connection with Aboriginal people, as if Muslims have a superior claim to Australia than non-indigenous followers of other faiths. This sense of ownership and superiority leads to a kind of arrogance, as if Muslims have a greater right to speak for indigenous people, which is compounded by the fact that many Muslim migrants are not white. Many Muslims don't realise that this kind of arrogance makes them complicit in the injustice perpetrated toward indigenous people.

[04] Why is the Aboriginal Muslim community growing? Are Aboriginal converts attracted by some alleged increase in freedom? Do Aboriginal Muslims feel Muslim for all the same reasons? Must it always be explained as a rejection of Christianity and/or Western culture?

[05] Many Muslims have adopted the same colonial mindset toward indigenous people as Christian missionaries. They see the purpose of dawah (preaching) to be saving Aboriginal people and getting them to leave behind their aboriginality. Aboriginal Muslims are also pressed to adopt migrant Muslim modes of dress etc. Underlying this is often the presumption that Aboriginality boils down to petrol sniffing, alcohol abuse and criminality.

[06] The notion that Muslims somehow become morally superior over other Australians simply because a growing number of indigenous people are adopting Islam must be challenged.

To be continued ...

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

OPINION: Terror Recuitment by Remote Control ...

One of my all-time favourite movies is The Naked Gun. For those who can’t recall the plot, an LA businessman (played by the late Ricardo Montalban of Fantasy Island fame) is hired by terrorists determined to have Queen Elizabeth II assassinated. His solution? A special key ring with a button that, when pressed, will turn anyone into an unwilling assassin.

And in case you thought this only happens in hilariously bad comedies, now al-Qaeda is using the same strategy in its jihad against anyone who isn’t them. Al-Qaeda’s slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslims in Somalia, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan obviously hasn’t convinced Muslims to join its cause. Hence it has had to resort to
remote control non-Muslim wingnuts in the United States to help things along.

One of them is a goofy pastor from Florida named Terry Jones who wanted to gather his flock to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of September 11. Jones thought this crazy act would somehow send a message to crazy suicide bombers.

President Obama agreed. Except that he thought the event would be a “recruitment
bonanza for al-Qaeda” and similar groups looking for even more people crazy enough to “blow themselves up” in American, European, Middle Eastern, Asian etc cities. As if the Americans bombing Middle Eastern and Asian cities isn’t enough incentive.

Of course, Muslims who understand their faith will understand that no amount of burning Qurans will have any effect on the book’s appeal to its believers. They believe the promise contained in the Quran’s text that God will preserve and protect the Quran.

Muslims who understand their faith will know this. But here’s the bad news. There are lots of Muslims who don’t understand their faith very well at all. There are Muslims whose dictators, kings, emirs and presidents-for-life hold special key rings. At the press of a button, thousands are transformed into nutty crowds that behave like attendees at a KKK rally.

We all saw how much damage these crazies did in response to the Danish cartoons. And - in a touch of irony - the Danish cartoonist who drew the most offensive one - depicting the Prophet wearing a bomb for a turban - has also come out and condemned the Florida pastor.

In fact, it’s hard to find anyone who won’t condemn the nutty pastor. Sarah Palin has
refudiated him, as has Angela Merkel of Germany and David Cameron of Britain. One Indian politician has even asked media not to print or broadcast images of the event.

Perhaps the wisest words came from a French government spokesman who declared the event would be a grave insult to the 9/11 victims and their families.

For one victim, this especially rings true. On the morning of September 11 2001, Baraheen Ashrafi joined her husband Mohammad Chowdhury for morning prayers and recitation of the Quran. He then left for his work as a waiter at the Windows of the World restaurant, on the top floors of Tower One. Reciting the Quran was one of their last acts together.

Pastors burning Qurans and wingnuts protesting outside proposed mosques won’t reduce Baraheen’s pain. Still, those who share the same types of hatred as terrorists would hardly care for the sentiments of victims.

First published in the Crescent Times Issue 23, September 2010.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

OPINION: False Prophecy ...

This article was first published in NewMatilda on 11 October 2006.


The Australian's editorials and columnists frequently praise Muslim 'reformers' for doing little more than abandoning Islam altogether, writes Irfan Yusuf.

John Howard recently expressed his belief that 99 per cent of Muslims have successfully integrated into mainstream Australia and have adopted a set of uniquely Australian values.

Unique values. You know the ones like mateship. Just ask the current Telstra board.

And like democracy. Yes, apparently this is a uniquely Australian value. Howard has repeatedly lectured Muslims on why their countries should adopt democracy. His Treasurer lectures Muslims on why they should support secularism, separating Mosque from State.

Over the next few days, Howard will announce the new Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG), a set of ‘leaders’ he will consult on matters affecting Australia’s 360,000 Muslims. The MCGR was formed in September 2005, and its first term recently expired.

And what democratic processes will be used to select these people? Will ordinary Muslims get to nominate people? Will Muslims get to vote on who is selected?

Yeah, right. The Government may have just enough of a majority of shares in Telstra to select one director but the Howard Government seems to hold 100 per cent of all shares in Australia’s Muslim communities.

When it comes to democracy, Howard will be misleading by example. He and his ministers will handpick which Muslims they wish to talk to. Who knows what the criteria will be.

Lately, one of Howard’s favourite newspapers has been busy supporting, promoting, and then condemning, certain current MCRG members.

Consider The Australian’s interest in Dr Ameer Ali, a former president of the virtually defunct Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, and outgoing chair of Howard’s MCRG. Some readers will remember Ali as the man whose organisation took 21 days to issue a letter condemning the London bombing, while taking less than 21 minutes to condemn Michelle Leslie’s dress sense.

Ali is now writing an academic paper on how some Muslims seem to be interpreting Islamic texts literally: an interesting theological and philosophical subject.

But for Richard Kerbaj, The Oz’s specialist reporter assigned to report on all things Muslim, Ali’s research findings have become a yardstick against which to decide who is and isn’t a moderate Muslim.

The circus began on 4 October with an article headlined ‘Prophet not perfect, says Islamic scholar’. The article followed a predictable script, with words thrown together randomly to produce a meaningless yet scary message. Try this sentence on for size:

The chairman of John Howard’s Muslim advisory board yesterday warned that Islamists would continue to breed jihadis unless the Koran was ┼ôreinterpreted  for today’s society.

So when Islamists do some horizontal folk dancing and one falls pregnant, you can bet your bottom dinar that nine months later out will pop a jihadi. The bastards are breeding like rabbits!

It gets better.

He also said mosques were increasingly being used by imams to deliver sermons that were not open to discussion.

What the? How can imams stop people from discussing their sermons?

Following this are quotes from Ali about how the Koran needs to be reinterpreted to suit modern times; that people should question its teachings; that Muslims should stop reacting to every provocation; and that Muslims should stop judging people’s religiosity by the length of their beards (presuming they are blokes).

It’s hard to know what to make of Kerbaj’s article. He treats Ali’s theologically benign statements as a virtual revolutionary manifesto for an all-Aussie Islamic revolution. Such a characterisation shows he has little understanding of current debates in Western Muslim communities.

Ali isn’t the first person to condemn Muslim responses to the Danish cartoons. He also isn’t the first to criticise literalism in Koranic interpretations, nor is he the first to call for honest dialogue with Islam’s critics.

The usual suspects roundly condemned Ali’s comments. The Oz then published a somewhat patronising editorial about the issue, which made out that the Alis of this world will rarely find support within Muslim communities. The article even went so far as to suggest that Ali’s remarks dealt with ‘some of Islam’s most controversial issues, which have already sparked widespread displays of anger and retaliatory violence around the world’.

I’m not aware of a single riot within the Muslim world on the issue of literalism in Koranic interpretation or on the notion of questioning Islamic teachings. Indeed, in the world’s largest Muslim country, followers of liberal reformers like Nurcholis Madjid are setting up foundations and even establishing universities. And the grandson of the founder of Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is openly calling for a limit to the application of Islamic sharia .

Most amusing was The Oz’s explanation of Ali’s scholarly authority.

Dr Ali’s standing cannot be easily dismissed. He is a doctor of economics who works at Murdoch University in Perth and is writing an academic paper entitled Closing of the Muslim Mind.

So let me get this right: an economics lecturer has the right to authoritatively comment on matters pertaining to religious law and esoteric theology. Presumably, this applies vice versa. I look forward to seeing Cardinal Pell appointed to the Reserve Bank board.

The Oz editorial then manufactured facts, claiming that the entire Muslim world was on fire as a result of the Pope’s speech and the Danish cartoons. The paper suggested that violence was a default position to be expected of Muslims:

Thankfully, the response of Australia’s Islamic leaders has been rhetorical and not vengeful, in stark contrast to the response overseas to publication of the Danish cartoons and the Pope’s speech and the treatment of French philosophy teacher Robert Redeker, who has been forced into hiding for linking Mohammed to violence.

I am the first to admit that some Muslims behaved in an extreme and inappropriate manner, to say the least. But seriously, these responses represent a minority. The vast majority of Muslims protested peacefully. Some voted with their wallets by boycotting Danish goods. Others organised peaceful rallies. There are 1.2 billion Muslims on the planet, if even half of them each lit a match, global warming would soon become global boiling.

The Oz
would have us believe that Ali is a brave lone voice in the wilderness. The paper’s editorials and columnists frequently praise Muslim ‘reformers’ for doing little more than abandoning Islam altogether. Openly ex-Muslims like Wafa Sultan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are put on pedestals. Rushdie-wannabes like Irshad Manji are frequently quoted making outlandish claims that they single-handedly rediscovered ijtihad , a fundamental concept and process used by just about everyone from Osama bin Ladin to Anwar Ibrahim.

(Ali has since criticised the headline and slant taken on his comments by The Oz .)

People should be free to enter or leave Islam as they wish. They should be free to practise whatever religion, if any, takes their fancy (so long as it doesn’t involve blowing themselves and/or others up). And they should be able to define who they are, instead of having pseudo-conservative newspapers and politicians trying to impose alien definitions on them.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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